Date: 9th November 2009 at 2:25pm
Written by:

For once, the world sees things as they happened: most independent observers agree that United should never have lost at Stamford Bridge and even acknowledge the contribution of Martin Atkinson, the referee who strongly influenced the result with several dubious calls.

Of course Rooney wasn’t offside when he was sent clear by Anderson – Ashley Cole played him on. Of course Terry pulled Valencia to the ground (to be fair, we can’t really blame Atkinson for that, it would have been his assistant’s job to spot that) which should have resulted in a penalty and Chelsea’s goal should never have stood: Fletcher won the ball fairly before the free-kick, Drogba pulled Brown to the ground and he was offside and interfering with play.

So the referee played a very big part in Chelsea’s victory and I’m afraid it’s not surprising, not after what happened against Sunderland and Liverpool where we witnessed similarly disgraceful refereeing performances. The reasons look quite clear to me: it can be traced back to Owen’s 96th minute winner over City.

While that moment was just about priceless, we look set to pay a huge price for it anyway. The subsequent storm over the completely legitimate amount of injury time put awful pressure on referees: giving United any decisions would result in further, even more embarassing scrutiny and nobody knows it better than Martin Atkinson who allowed that game to continue until 97 minutes were gone.

And Atkinson was in no mood to be the target of the nation again: he knows, as all referees do, that the safest things to do is calling the decisions against Manchester United. After all, what are the consequences? A bitter rant from Fergie? But that will only result in our manager getting crucified, as it was demonstrated several times in the last few weeks. That just about takes the pressure of the ref while giving United anything can do a lot of harm to their careers – just remember that, after the Spurs game in April, there was talk about demoting Howard Webb after daring to award what had looked like a stonewall penalty at first!

So referees, maybe not even consciously (although that is unlikely in my opinion), are keen to show that they are not intimidated by Sir Alex and there’s only one way to do that: the Atkinson way, as seen at Stamford Bridge yesterday. Or we could call it the Marriner way, after a similarly one-sided refereeing performance at Anfield. In a way, this is Fergie’s fault, too: his criticism of Alan Wiley was totally justified (he did take an awful lot of time at every booking and he did not give a second to the minimum amount of added time, despite a goal and Sunderland’s best efforts of timewasting and of course he should have awarded a penalty for Reid’s handball) he should have expected the wrath they were always going to incur.

I guess this season will be like this but we must take heart from the team’s excellent performance. We outplayed Chelsea at their own backyard and though they registered an important and totally undeserved win, we have a few reasons to be cautiously optimistic about our chances.